Modern Italy

A Political History
Smith, Denis Mack
Date published: 
January 1997

The political history of modern Italy began in March 1861 when Count Camillo Cavour proclaimed a united Italian kingdom. For a country which, in earlier centuries, had often held a central position in western culture, it was a late entrant to nationhood, and the very suddenness of its national revolution brought problems. In this fully revised edition of his classic history of the country, Denis Mack Smith provides a complete and challenging narrative of the fate of Italy from risorgimento to the present day. For sixty years after 1861 Italy was governed by a liberal oligarchy under a parliamentary constitution. It gave way, after 1920, to Europe's first fascist dictatorship until Mussolini led the country into a catastrophic military defeat in 1943. Torn and bruised by the resulting civil war, Italy rediscovered liberal democracy, and under a new republican regime became one of the major industrialised countries of the world. What Italy still lacked was political stability and an effective constitution that could check political corruption and contain the criminal activity of the Mafia and camorra. In 1992 a revolt by the electorate brought a complete collapse of the old party system. Some argued for a change to a federated state; a few even harked back to the authoritarianism of Mussolini. But most, Mack Smith argues, looked to the formation of a second Republic, learning from past mistakes to fulfil the noble ideals that took their inspiration from Cavour and Mazzini in 1861. First published in 1958 as Italy: A Modern History, the book has been substantially rewritten for the current edition, with a fresh section on the period after 1945, a new bibliography, new maps, and updated factual appendices. Stylish, clearly written, deeply informed and often controversial, it remains the definitive account for anyone interested in modern Italy. Denis Mack Smith is a Fellow of the British Academy and of Wolfson College, Oxford. He has been awarded a dozen literary prizes in Italy and is a Commendatore of the Italian Order of Merit. Among his recent books are Italy and its Monarchy (1989) and Mazzini (1994) (see page 21).